Just to the left of Yosemite Falls (the tallest waterfall in North America) lies the Five Open Books.  With one of the most amazing waterfalls next door it’s somewhat surprising that the area didn’t attract climbers until the 1960’s.  While initially the climbing here was full of loose rock and vegetation, today with constant travel the routes are clean and quite enjoyable.

Unlike other areas of Yosemite Valley, the rock face is not continuous all the way up the valley.  Instead it is divided up into tiers by very large ledges, so large that the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail runs on top of the second tier.  The first tier gets you about 400′ off of the valley floor and the top of the second tier gets you another 600′ higher.  So to climb to the top of the second tier you have to link together a couple of different climbs.  For the first tier we decided to head up Munginella (5.6) and then finish off the day at the top of the second tier via Selaginella (5.8).

To access the base of Munginella you park at the Lower Yosemite Falls trailhead.  While gearing up and getting ready I noticed a couple ladies who were also getting ready to do some climbing.  After a bit of chatting we discovered that they we were all heading in the same direction and they informed us that the climbers trail can be pretty hard to spot.  So they offered to help out by showing us the way.  We were quite thankful because they were right, the trail was quite hard to spot.

After a bit of 3rd class walking we arrived at the base of the climb.  There was a party of three just getting started in front of us and not long after we arrived two more parties of two showed up behind us.  A women in the party of three informed us that they were going to be moving pretty slowly because this would be the first lead for two of their members.  Thankfully they were quite respectful and after they all managed to get to the first belay they allowed us to climb past them.

Ben took the first pitch and wasted no time in flying up the first half of the route.  He setup an anchor above the first party and we made a quick changeover by swinging leads, trying not to hold them up.  The second pitch flew by so fast that I barely even remember leading it.  I reached the top and setup an anchor off of a few trees, trying not to spray rock and dirt down on the parties below us.  With both of us at the top of Munginella we checked the time and laughed, 45 minutes to knock out the two pitches and 300′ of climbing, that’s really moving for the two of us.

In order to get over to the base of Selaginella you have to walk along the top of the first tier.  It’s a very sandy and dirty climbers trail with a bit of elevation gain and a huge danger of dislodging rocks onto those below.  While looking for the start of our next climb there seemed to be a number of possibilities.  So we kept checking the guide book and compared the crack systems that we saw with what was drawn.  After about 10 minutes of hiking we came across a location that was pretty obviously used to belay people from and sure enough, it was the start of the climb.

It was Ben’s turn to take the lead.  The first pitch runs up a pretty nice dihedral and a solid 5.7 crack for hand jams and a bit of layback action.  Because the route is quite vertical, there aren’t as many locations to take breaks making the climbing quite sustained.  As the follower I was finding myself having to remove gear and rack it while keeping a hand in the crack at all times.  The topo seems to suggest belaying just above a tree stump but if you continue on just a little bit further you’ll reach a huge ledge, queuing yourself up for being able to do the route in three pitches instead of four.

The second pitch starts out with a pretty solid 5.7 crack that requires good usage of fists.  When you reach a piton you should start to traverse over to the left.  The topo calls this section 5.0 and for some reason my expectation was that I’d be able to pretty much run up this part.  While the climbing wasn’t hard at all, the route finding does require a bit of thinking.

While I was leading I remembered seeing a tree on the topo which I managed to sling with a double length runner so I knew I was on track at that point.  But above there I was faced with a couple options.  Over on the left there was a huge dihedral but it didn’t look very appealing.  On the right there looked to be a squeeze chimney that I thought would be safer but I wasn’t sure if it was on route or not.  I decided to take the chimney.

As I’ve mentioned in the last few posts, chimneys are kind of new to me.  Unbeknown to me, this chimney is rated at 5.8 and is a very tight fit.  I could get myself into it and feeling quite secure, but placing protection was a mammoth pain in the ass.  The chimney was so tight that my body was just wedged into it so the movement of my arms was quite limited.  But I managed to set a couple solid nuts along the way and was pretty happy when I was out of it.

Realizing that I’d done about 150′ of climbing I figured I should start looking for a place to setup an anchor and belay from.  There were some good cracks around but nothing very comfortable to stand on.  So I found myself looking upward, spying a place that looked good, getting to it and really not liking it that much.  This cycle happened about three times until I saw what looked like a glorious ledge just a bit further.  This one worked out.

I got up onto the ledge and immediately ran out of rope.  I had climbed a bit over 200′ and if it wasn’t for the bolt and the piton I would have been worried that I was off route.  I used the bolt and the piton for my anchor and backed it up with a big nut located in a crack between the two.  After I got Ben on belay I had a moment to look around and started smiling ear to ear.

Looking down the Selaginella route

Looking below from my belay on Selaginella

This wasn’t just any ledge I was standing on, it was a peninsula of rock jutting out of the face and just big enough for two people to stand on comfortably.  It was easy to get a full 180 degree view of the valley below as well as see everything that we’d climbed so far.  I yelled down to Ben that he was on belay and could watch his progress the whole way, it was very cool and I couldn’t wait for him to get up to me so we could share the experience.

I was also anxious to check the guide book and figure out where we were on the route.  When looking we discovered that I had almost climbed two pitches and from here we’d be able to finish the route in one more pitch.  But there was a decision to make, we could traverse left around a very wild 5.8 section or go up a 5.7 crack with a face section.  Ben chose to take the 5.7 crack and I can’t blame him, the traverse looked extremely exposed.

From my vantage point, I could only see the first 20′ or so of this last pitch so outside of watching how much rope I was feeding Ben I wasn’t able to see his progress.  I knew that he had to climb about 170′ to get to the top so I was rather surprised when he went off belay with 60′ of rope left (we climb with a 200ft rope).  I wondered if the beta in the topo was wrong or if I was just mistaken about how much climbing we had left.  Either way, I assumed that I was done leading for the day and after cleaning the route it would be in the bag.

The pitch itself was rather intense.  The crack climbing off of the belay was pretty straightforward and it led up to a ledge full of large chunks of loose rock.  Above that was a very tenuous traverse along a face with some under clings in a thin flake and minimal protection.  After this traverse you get a bit of a reprieve with some nice 5.7 fists up to a small ledge.  Taking a break here is likely a good idea because above here is some fairly strenuous 5.8 layback and stemming.

About half way through the stemming section Ben called down to me and told me that he hadn’t finished the climb.  He said that I’d understand why when I got up there in a happy and almost excited way so I kind of laughed and said okay.  When I reached him I found that he was standing on a big ledge about 18″ wide and 20′ long.  Looking up I could see the top of the climb about 30′ above us, close enough I felt like I could just touch it.

So I asked Ben why he hadn’t finished the climb.  Turns out the last pitch was pretty strenuous on lead and he wasn’t sure if we were off route or not.  So he figured he’d bring me up and get my read on things.  I could easily see how the climbing below would be strenuous on a leader so I completely understood and applauded him for deciding to bring me up.

We had two options to finish the route, a layback off of a detached flake on the left and a featured but difficult to protect face in front of us.  The flake looked rather suspect to use as a layback so I decided that I’d lead the face section as it seemed safer.  I’m going to save the details of the events that followed this decision for the next post.  But as a summary, the features on the face got thinner and the places I thought I could get protection in didn’t work out as planned.  As a result I had a rather bad fall.  So in as far as beta for this route is concerned, I’d highly suggest not climbing the face and using the very stable fake on the left.  It can be protected and is a much safer route.

I don’t enjoy leaving you dangling in regards to my fall but the details of it and the lessons learned deserve their own post.  Also, the quality and enjoyment that this climb provides doesn’t deserve to be weighed down with all of that extra baggage.  So I’ll leave you with a more pleasant image, a panorama taken a bit lower on the climb.

Panorama from Selaginella

Prior to starting this trip Ben had gone through the guide book and marked the areas that he thought would be fun to check out.  Given the level of climbing that we were interested/capable of, there were a few must hit areas.  But with six days of climbing we didn’t want to chew through all of our best climbs right away so we went searching for climbs that we glossed over before.

Some of our campmates had done some climbing on the Glacier Point Apron the day before and spoke pretty highly of the experience.  So we checked out what the area had to offer and it turns out that there were a number of options that looked interesting.  The Grack, Center (5.6) is touted as the best 5.6 climb in Yosemite but we were looking for something a bit longer than three pitches.  What we found was Goodrich Pinnacle.

Panorama From Goodrich Pinnacle

Panorama from Goodrich Pinnacle

Goodrich Pinnacle (5.9R) was first climbed by Royal Robins, Liz Robins and TM Herbert in 1964.  They put up the route in honor of Don Goodrich who died while attempting the first ascent of the west face of Mount Conness.  The guide book described the route as one of the better climbs of its length in the Valley and gave it a five star rating.  Featuring some cracks, a lot of face climbing and even a 5.6 chimney section, we were pretty excited to give it a go.

It was a Saturday and the perfect temperatures were not ignored by the climbing community so we were expecting to deal with some crowds.  To our surprise what we found was complete and total solitude.  On the approach to the climb we didn’t see a single person, on the route itself we didn’t see any parties, we seemed to have the entire crag to ourselves.  Perhaps folks were sleeping in or perhaps the relatively recent (1998) and deadly rockfall in the area was still a deterrent.  I’m not sure about the reason but I was thankful.

At the base of the climb the guide book shows about 60′ of 4th class climbing and in order to link together some pitches we decided to belay from the top of the 4th class.  While getting to the top of the “4th” class was fairly easy, it was much closer to 5.0 climbing so I’d suggest roping up if you aren’t comfortable free soloing easy stuff.

When I studied the route beta I decided that I wanted to lead the first pitch.  Doing so would allow me to follow on the crux as well as avoid leading the 5.6 chimney at the top.  After Ben’s quick ascent of the 5.6 chimney a couple days earlier I had decided that he should lead them from now on.  Plus with only 5.4 and 5.5 moves, the first pitch was quite easy and a good warmup.

We were already 200′ off the ground when Ben started the second pitch of 5.7 hand jams.  Above this pitch the cracks run out and the route transitions into face climbing until last pitch.  The beginning of the third pitch features this very cool arching crack that goes up and left towards a bolt at the end.  Above this crack lies the psychological crux of the climb, 30′ of 5.8 climbing without any protection.  Psychological crux eh?  With a little reluctance I decided that I would lead it.

I used the arched crack as footholds and really zippered it up with a lot of cams and nuts because I knew that I wouldn’t need them above.  At the end of the crack there is a very nice resting place and a solid bolt.  With all of the runout 5.8 above this point, I took my time and got a feel for what was ahead.  Royal Robbins worked the first ascent on this section and said, “for half an hour I made repeated starts here, carefully backing down each time until I had the combination worked out.”  So I don’t feel too bad about taking my time either and it paid off because I climbed the pitch cleanly.

Taking a Break Before the Traverse

Ben taking a break before the traverse

The next pitch was back in the hands of Ben and it featured the crux of the climb.  At a piton 30′ above the belay the climb has “a traverse as delicate as any I have seen” (Royal Robins) for 30′ over to a small flake.  Once at the flake you climb up for another 30′ on very smooth 5.9 glacial polish.  You can fit at best two creative pieces of protection into the flake on the right (a small nut and a .5 cam).  While I was climbing towards him, just before reaching the crux, Ben tells me that right above me he had to palm the rock with both hands and could feel himself sliding down while trying to move up.  Even as a follower, that pitch really kept my attention.

The guide book made the next pitch look rather innocent.  It had three very closely spaced bolts early on and a 5.7 runout section at the end of the pitch.  Thinking that Ben got us through the crux of the climb I was feeling like the worst was behind us.  Incorrect.  I got to the first bolt with relative ease and the second bolt was just a few feet above with the third bolt just a few feet further, it’s like we were at the gym.  But alas, it was not the gym and these bolts were there for a reason, the climbing is tough.

Above the second bolt there is not a single hand or foot hold in sight for 10′.  Climbing shoes are made with a very sticky rubber that is able to flow into the rock for more friction and in general is really amazing stuff.  In this case it wasn’t amazing enough.  The rock was smooth as glass and when I would step up and apply pressure my foot would not only slide down, it would make squeaking sounds in the process!  I didn’t think that was possible with climbing shoes and after a bunch of experimentation I decided to be lowered back to the belay and have Ben give it a try.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if Ben was able to figure out a way to make it up this section, but he wasn’t having much better luck than I was.  Perhaps this is why Royal claims that Glacier Point has some of the “severest friction climbing in the country”.  Wanting to complete the climb, we spied a section of rock over to the left that was much more featured but would be a sketchy traverse.  So with a bit of shame we decided to weight the rope and pendulum over to it.  The rock in this section was much nicer but with 60′ of runout Ben stayed focused and got us through the section.

We were down to the last pitch and because I was suppose to lead the last one that meant that I would get to finish the climb.  But like I mentioned earlier, the top of the route features a 5.6 chimney and my last experience with a chimney of that rating was pretty slow going.  So while I had confidence in being able to do the moves, I wasn’t really looking forward to them.  At least there was plenty of protection in this section so I really didn’t have anything to complain about.

To my surprise and joy the chimney was extremely easy.  I’m quite aware of the subjective nature of rating climbs but there is absolutely no way that I can see calling this chimney and Church Bowl Chimney a 5.6, there is no comparison.  But after six pitches and 800′ of climbing we were now over 1000′ off of the valley floor and quite proud of our accomplishment.  This was the longest climb that I had completed and our first experience with 5.9 face climbing in Yosemite.

But all good things must come to an end and while rappelling down the route they did exactly that.  We decided to rappel down the right side of the pinnacle and on the way down Ben noticed that there was no way our ropes wouldn’t get stuck.  When we started pulling them they did exactly that and we needed to figure out a way to get them unstuck.  We decided that Ben would climb back up the route to where the knot got stuck.  I had remembered there being a piton somewhere up there and was hoping that it was close to the trouble spot.  Turns out that the rope was stuck about 10′ above the piton so Ben climbed up, got it unstuck, down climbed back to the piton and then rappelled off of it.  Just in case the piton blew, I kept him on belay.

After getting that unstuck we thought the rest of the rappel would be pretty straightforward but it wasn’t.  Below our third rappel the ropes ran over an area with a bunch of cracks.  We tie knots into the end of our ropes just to make sure we don’t rappel off of the ends.  As we started to pull the rope through the anchor, one of these knots got stuck in a crack below us.  So I tied the longer end off to an anchor and single rope rappelled down to where it was stuck.

After two stuck ropes it was taking us between one and two hours to get off of the route.  The guide book claimed that from the second belay station it’s 200′ to the ground so we figured we’d be able to get down from there, but the ground looked pretty far away.  I was the guinea pig and went first.  With two generous 60m ropes and rope stretch it still wasn’t quite enough.  I found myself about 10′ off of the ground but close enough to get onto the 4th class and get myself off rappel.

Even with the problem prone rappel, I’d highly recommend the climb.  The views are amazing and the climbing has a good amount of variety on a clean route.  However, I would suggest being a rather confident 5.9 leader with some experience on Yosemite slabs.  I’d also keep my mind open about using some aid on the 5.9 sections of the climb.  If you finish the route, it sounds like rappelling off the left side of the pinnacle is less painful and on the lower pitches consider relying on a backup prusik knot when rappelling and skip the knots at the ends.

Even a name like Manure Pile Buttress doesn’t deter the crowds from this crag and for good reason, it’s a fantastic place to climb.  Not only is it a fantastic place to climb, it features one of the most historic and ground breaking routes in climbing history.

Manure Pile got its name not because the rock is crap or because it looked like crap but because people used to dump crap at its base.  More specifically, in the mid 1960’s the stable owners in the valley would dump their horseshit here which actually did deter some climbers.  It wasn’t until 1965 that the first known route was completed and by none other than Yvon Chouinard (founder of Black Diamond and Patagonia).  That route was called After 6 and it was given that name because he and his partner started the climb at 6 o’clock… in the evening.  With an impressive 6 pitches in length, starting this first ascent at 6pm shows how skillful of a climber Chouinard was.

Being that After 6 (5.7) was the first established climb at this crag, it’s coincidentally appropriate that it was our first climb on it as well.  If it was June maybe we could have started it at 6pm but seeing that it gets dark around 7pm in October, we set out for a 10am start.  After a very short walk from the car to the base of the climb we found that there was one party in front of us.  The leader was already about a third of the way through the first pitch so we hustled to get ready to go.  Turns out our hustling wasn’t really needed.

The party in front of us was comprised of a guy and his girlfriend.  He managed to complete the first pitch (which is the hardest of them all) without too much trouble and at a fairly good pace, however she was not feeling so comfortable following and it took her quite a while to complete the pitch.  We gave them a bit to get started on their next pitch before Ben took off on lead.

Apparently when Ben reached the top of the pitch the couple was still there and having a bit of an argument.  He seemed upset at her for not being comfortable and moving slowly.  On top of that he was demanding that if they were to continue that she lead at least one of the pitches.  Ben suggested to her that she should lead the second pitch because it’s just 3rd and 4th class walking.  Apparently that wouldn’t do, it needed to be “a real pitch”.  This just baffles me.  If you’re on a climb and your partner is sketched out the last thing you should do is demand that they do some leading, especially when it’s your significant other.  Thankfully the coupled bailed and rappelled down the route before getting themselves into real trouble.

The first pitch is without a doubt the physical crux of the climb.  With a good amount of 5.7 layback moves it’s a fairly sustained 130′.  One section about a third of the way up even features about 10′ of polished granite which can be a bit tricky to get through if you aren’t a confident 5.7 leader.  I had planed on leading the second pitch but when we got there we discovered that it really was very easy 4th class climbing and not worth putting me on belay for.

At the base of our second pitch it was now my turn to take the lead.  Wouldn’t you know it, the first section of the pitch featured a small chimney.  Higher up the chimney turned into a wide crack with nice foot holds on the left side but was a little difficult to protect.  At the top of the crack is the next official belay station before a section of face climbing.

I had forgotten that this pitch was so short and continued up and past the easy face climbing section.  Above this there was a nice ledge to belay from and I contemplated stopping there but the next 40′ of climbing featured a wonderful hand crack and I really wanted to lead it.  So I shouted down to Ben for an estimate of how much rope I had left.  He couldn’t give me a very accurate answer so I took that as enough to get to the next ledge.

At 200′ of climbing rope drag can get to be a real issue.  I had just reached the ledge that I wanted to get to but I was feeling so much drag that I thought I had run out of rope.  Wanting to build an anchor about three feet away from my fingertips I debated what I should do.  I decided to give the rope a good pull and see if I could get any slack.  I managed to get just enough to throw some pro in the wall and bring Ben up, a perfect rope stretching pitch.

Our third pitch (traditionally the fifth) was back in Ben’s hands.  Physically it was pretty easy but route finding was fairly challenging.  There were trees galore mixed in with many different route options.  The trees made it hard to look ahead to see where you should be and created some rope management issues as well.  But after finishing this pitch we only had another 100′ of climbing left and we’d be at the top.

At 600′ above the valley floor it was starting to get a bit windy.  I knocked out the last pitch without any troubles but at the top there wasn’t anything close to the ledge to setup an anchor on.  Closest thing I could find was a couple cracks 30′ off of the lip.  When I setup the anchor and tied myself into it I could no longer see down to Ben and the wind made vocal communications impossible.  The rope drag was also making it hard to communicate via the rope as well.  But eventually we got it sorted out and finished off the climb.

Once back down at the base we realized that we had enough time and energy to do some more climbing.  We pondered a couple sport(ish) routes but neither one of us really wanted to lead them.  So we went searching for the start of Nutcracker (5.8).

Nutcracker is the climb that really changed everything.  In 1966 Royal Robbins (also a maker of excellent outdoor clothing) had done a couple climbs in the UK and found that they were starting to jam machine nuts into constrictions in the rock and use them for protection.  Recognizing the long term effects of placing and removing pitons, Royal was conscious enough to realize that using nuts was a more sustainable style of climbing.

So when he came back to Yosemite he decided to put up a first ascent using noting but removable nuts.  He called this route Nutcracker Sweet, a wonderful pun that was lost on some climbers and the name was eventually shortened to just Nutcracker.  As others started to see how viable removable nuts were, this new style of climbing swept through the valley very rapidly and forever changing the climbing world.

I’m not sure if it was conscious or not, but on the first pitch of the climb Ben managed to set nothing but nuts for every placement except one.  Along the way he even found a small Buddha statue resting on a shelf that looked like it was once fastened to a climbers harness.  I followed him up on the first pitch and when reaching the belay we discovered that we had taken an alternate route, oops.

This wasn’t too big of a deal but it did mean that my pitch would have to start with a 20′ long 5.8 runout traverse.  The first part of the traverse was a piece of cake, walking along the top of a flake.  But the second part was pure face and I very gingerly took my time finding the best foot holds that I could and getting the sequence of my feet just right.  With a few minutes of time and a moment of talking myself out of just jumping for a huge hold off to my right I made it.  The rest of the pitch involved moving along this huge shelf and was so easy that it’s not worth mentioning.

Two Pitches up Nutcracker

Getting ready to rappel down Nutcracker

It was getting fairly late in the day and we hadn’t intended on doing the entire climb, but I think if there wasn’t a party in front of us we would have considered it.  Seeing that they were taking their time (and dropping some gear) we decided to stick to plan and rappel back to the ground.  Finishing this climb off will have to wait for another day, one that I look forward to.

That Friday night we enjoyed some spaghetti with homemade marinara sauce and once again pondered what the adventure for the next day should be.  After hearing about some good climbing over on the Glacier Point Apron, we settled on Goodrich Pinnacle.

Yosemite Valley has a huge variety of climbing.  It’s got the full range of cracks (finger, jams, off-width, chimney), all different kinds of laybacks, face climbing, stemming, you name it and it’s there.  On a number of routes (especially longer ones) you’re likely to encounter all of the above types which makes it important to have a good set of skills in your toolbox.  So Ben and I decided that we’d spend our first day expanding our toolbox by exploring chimneys and Church Bowl is a perfect place to do this.

In the early days of developing climbing techniques, Church Bowl was a popular proving ground.  The large number of short and moderate climbs coupled with a good amount of variety still make it a great personal proving ground.  Neither Ben or I have much experience with climbing chimneys but wanted to do some bigger climbs where we’d run into them.  The extent of my experience was this perfect 60′ tall chimney in Arches National Park that I had free soloed about 7 years earlier.  This was a fact that I would regret sharing with Ben as he rather enjoyed giving me a hard time about it.

Armed with our lack of experience, we followed the recommendation of our guide book and decided to give Uncle Fanny (5.7) a try.  The description of the climb called it “a good introduction to chimney climbing”, excellent.  Also in the description they suggested we use the “heel/toe technique”.  Having never used this technique, we could pretty well guess what it was but weren’t so sure on the details.  Oh well, we were fairly sure we’d figure something out and looking at the route from the ground it looked very manageable.

Before taking on the climb, I felt the need to shed some weight in the form of  a #2.  There was a line of portable toilets right next to the parking lot and we heard them being emptied out a bit earlier so I figured they would be nice and clean.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The smell was manageable at first but by the time I was finishing up I found myself gagging and on the verge of throwing up.  I’d never smelled anything that bad in my life and I needed to exit quickly, very quickly.  I didn’t have time to put my harness back on or my chalk bag.  In fact, I didn’t even have time to pull my pants up.  I opened the door and practically jumped out of there with everything at my knees.  This wouldn’t have been a issue, but I was also cursing and that drew the attention of a small group of students walking by.  I didn’t hear anyone say anything in response to the sight of a grown man running and yelling out of a bathroom with his ass on display so maybe nobody saw anything.  Or more likely they were just too shocked, such is life in the woods.

After telling Ben this story and getting ourselves together he took the lead on Uncle Fanny and I watched as he made his way through this squeeze chimney.  This really isn’t what comes to my mind when I think about chimney climbs.  Ben has a slightly smaller stature than I do and it seemed like he was having to time his breathing to get through the smallest sections so I wasn’t sure how smoothly it would go down for me.  The chimney section is really only 15′ long or so and as the follower it didn’t give me to many challenges but did make me think a bit.

When we got down to the ground we both agreed that the climb was not what we were expecting.  It doesn’t help that the aesthetics of the route leave something to be desired as well.  While we got what we wanted, some more experience with chimneys, we were thinking that a fun climb was in order.  So we started to make our way over to Bishop’s Terrace.

Along the way we ran into a group of four climbers just arriving from the parking lot.  They asked us what route we were heading towards and we said that we were going to check out Bishop’s Terrace.  They wanted to do the same climb and while we all arrived at the start at the same time, they seemed to feel like they got there first.  It’s not a huge deal, but it kind of annoyed me a little bit being that they were a large group.  So we wondered around a bit trying to find something else that looked fun.

We wanted to do some more chimney climbing and it was my turn to lead.  After taking a good survey of the route, I decided on Church Bowl Chimney (5.6).  This was the first route ever ascended at this crag and done so in the 1950’s.  It’s a huge flaring chimney that is wide enough to apply pressure with your heels and back.  The back of the chimney sits at least 20′ in from the face and there are numerous ledges to take breaks on.  Regarded as the next step up from Uncle Fanny, it seemed like the logical thing to try.

I began inching my way up the chimney, applying pressure with my back and feet.  While there were a number of options for setting protection, all of the ledges made being truly safe much more difficult.  As soon as you’d get 15 to 20 feet above one ledge you’d reach another one, so a fall on the route would almost certainly result in landing on one of the ledges.  This made for a more stressful lead and as a result I took a number of long breaks to keep myself fresh.

Near the top of this 120′ tall beast, the moves transitioned into doing kind of a layback inside of the chimney but it wasn’t quite wide enough to truly layback.  With a small roof at the bottom of this section, I found myself resting using a knee bar between the two opposing walls.  While the comfort level on my knee was not high, it was a great trade off for the rest and security that it offered while placing gear.  By the time I got to the top about 45 minutes had passed.  I was excited to see how Ben would manage with the climb and was secretly hoping he would struggle just a little bit.  He didn’t, he’s just too good of a climber.  I think he managed to complete it in less than a fourth of the time that I did.  I then informed him that he would be leading our chimney pitches from now on.

After that adventure I was feeling pretty proud of us.  We rested a bit and had some food before heading over to see if there was a line on Bishop’s Terrace (5.8), seeing none we got ourselves ready for this two pitch classic.  This was the second route to be climbed in this area and was done so by Steve Roper in December of 1959.  The second pitch of the climb features a fantastic jam crack, viewed as one of the best 5.8 cracks in the valley.  In the guide book Roper talks of how scared he was leading the second pitch and the shame of using two pitons for aid.

Because I led the last climb it was Ben’s turn on this one.  We decided that we’d do the climb in two pitches so each of us could have some fun on the sharp end.  The first pitch is mostly layback climbing and is quite pleasurable.  The very beginning features some nice undercling holds and plenty of chalk from other climbers to highlight the route.

The second pitch was all mine and I had a bit of nervous excitement in me.  For the lower half of the pitch the crack is very wide at the face but also very deep with pretty good hand jams 6-12″ into the crack.  I hadn’t climbed a crack quite like this one before and while different, it wasn’t too challenging.  Up higher the crack gets shallower and eventually runs out.  Thankfully a few feet to the right another crack appears, also with amazing hand jams.  This section also features one usable and one unusable piton right around the crux of the climb.  I can’t help but wonder if these are the two pitons that Roper used as aid when first climbing the route, pretty cool if they are.

Top of Bishop's Terrace

Top of Bishop's Terrace

The rest of the climb went off as smoothly as the earlier parts.  After struggling on some chimneys earlier in the day we were very glad to finish on a high note.  We hung out at the base of the climb for a while and chatted with these two cute girls that were getting ready to give it a go.  Both of them worked in the park and climbed when they had the time.  During the conversation they informed us that they had a group of about 30 women that were all climbers and worked in the park.  Awesome.

Heading back to camp we started to drool in excitement for our dinner that night, sausages cooked over the camp fire, wrapped in tortillas with mozzarella cheese and chile paste.  While relaxing we contemplated what to do the next day and concluded that the delightfully sounding Manure Pile Buttress was the place to go.

Coming off of my first trad climbing trip just a few weeks earlier, Ben and I decided that we wanted to get another trip to Yosemite in while the weather was nice.  In those three weeks, the temperatures up in Tuolumne had dropped into the 50’s and 60’s and the park service had closed the Tuolumne campground.  So we set our sights on lower elevations and that meant Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite Valley is without a doubt one of the most well known natural landmarks in the world.  Known by most tourists for the largest waterfalls in North America, the steep granite faces of El Capitan and the towering presence of Half Dome.  While it’s quite obviously a destination for rock climbers, few know much about the history of climbing in Yosemite.

It’s not just a great place to go climbing, Yosemite Valley is and has been from almost the beginning of the sport the place to go climbing.  Advancements and movements tend to emanate from epicenters where the best and the brightest get together.  After World War II, Yosemite was the epicenter for the climbing community.  It was here where the present climbing style and ethics were all born.  The push to free climb routes instead of pulling on gear, innovations in rope management, the use of pitons to ascend harder routes, the rise of removable protection to avoid scaring the rock, the development of active protection and hundreds of other advancements.

Camp 4 Plaque

Photo: Flickr/hoipolloi

Not only did all of this happen inside Yosemite Valley, it was confined to one place, a campground called Camp 4.  Camp 4 is where the climbers lived and shared ideas, sometimes staying at the camp for months while working various projects in the valley.  In fact, Camp 4 was so central to the climbing community that it was here that Yvon Chouinard invented and sold his high tech pitons that allowed climbers to ascend new routes, that company is now called Black Diamond.  Chouinard also created a line of technical clothing under the familiar name Patagonia.  This is just one story of what came out of the community of climbers in Camp 4.  As a result, in 2003 Camp 4 was added to the national registry of historical places.

I’d stayed in Camp 4 before, but never as a climber and never for more than a couple nights.  The campground has room for about 210 people and is the only walk-in campground left in the valley.  Because of this, the sites there are extremely sought after.  To maximize it’s usage, the park service puts six people in every site.  This means that you’ll likely be sharing with some strangers.  While some might not think much of that idea, it’s actually an extremely cool experience.  It kind of forces you to hang around the campfire and hear what others have been up to and it’s a big part of what makes the tight knit community at Camp 4.

Because of the demand, Ben and I couldn’t get into the campground on our first night so we camped outside of the valley.  The next morning we got up before the sun rose and got ourselves a place in line by the campground registration window around 7am.  Because the window doesn’t open up until 8:30am, we got out our sleeping bags and took a little nap while we waited.  There were a number of parties in front of us but we managed to get a site.

We unloaded some gear and headed out for a climb (more about the climbing in a later post).  When we returned we got to meet our fellow campers.  All four of them were from the east coast but two of them will forever be in my memory, Dustin and Katie.  Dustin and Katie were in their early 20’s and decided to go on a mammoth road trip.  They left at the end of August and didn’t plan on going home until the end of December.  They had been climbing in Yosemite for the previous couple weeks and were very enjoyable to talk to.  To me, the two of them were so iconic of the lifestyle of so many climbers in Camp 4, in touch with the things that mattered to them and willing to make sacrifices to make it happen.

When the weekend rolled around a couple of new campers rolled into our site.  When Ben and I came back from our climb they were making themselves some dinner and asked if we’d be cool with some of their friends coming over to hang out.  Naturally we were fine with this but we didn’t quite realize what we were agreeing to.  About an hour later or so our campsite was filled with no less than 14 people in it.  One of them started a campfire and by the time we finished our dinner it was getting dark and we all hung out around the fire.

A bit later in the night some of our neighbors even joined us and brought along their guitars.  At this point we probably had almost 20 people huddled around the fire, singing, playing music and staying warm.  A park ranger even stopped by and commented on the fact that our site was the place to be that night, it was a very cool experience.

As the night progressed we slowly realized that all the extra friends were intending to actually stay at our campsite.  With a maximum of 6 people per site, 14 seemed like a pretty ridiculous stretch.  We were pretty cool with it until the group tried to setup a 7th tent, that was just making it too damn obvious.  So instead they crashed on their crash pads and in the vestibules of other tents.  It was all quite humerus in a way, however around midnight I was really wanting some peace and quiet so I could get some sleep.

That’s the way things seem to go in Camp 4 and I was feeling very fortunate to be a part of it.  I was wondering if I’d enjoy the climbing in the valley as much as I enjoyed it up in Tuolumne.  While the trip didn’t quite end the way we hoped it would, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy it.

Day 3: Hermaphrodite Flake (5.8) on Stately Pleasure Dome

It was a Saturday and not only had our own group grown from two to four, the number of other climbers had likely increased by roughly the same percentage.  So we contemplated what we should climb.  Trying to balance difficulty, quality, escape routes and climbing traffic, somehow we ended up choosing Hermaphrodite Flake.

The lower half of Hermaphrodite Flake is rated as a 5.4 with a lot of 3rd and 4th class climbing to get to the start (I’d say a solid 300′ of it).  We thought this would give us some good opportunities to split up and do some top roping if we so desired.  But the idea of that much unroped down climbing wasn’t appealing to anyone so we found ourselves somewhat committed before even getting tied in.

There were a couple groups ahead of us and being a party of four we decided to let one party of two start before us as well.  So we had plenty of time to hang out and enjoy the view of Stately Pleasure running right down into Tenaya Lake.  During that time we decided that I’d lead the first pitch, have Ben follow behind me trailing two ropes for Tyndall and Linda.  Once Ben got to the belay we’d each take one of the ropes he was trailing and bring the others up.

The first pitch of the climb is what gives Hermaphrodite Flake its name.  About half way up the pitch you’re confronted with three options to get around the flake.  You can take the easy route walking along the topside, the moderate route by tunneling under the flake or get the most exposure along the bottom.  Yes, you read that right, the flake is so large and separated from the main wall enough where you can climb underneath it.  When you look at this huge rock that’s about 50′ wide and 110′ tall somehow clinging to the side of this dome you have to wonder how it is actually staying put.  One would think that as you get closer up you’d be able to solve this mystery but as it turns out, the closer you get, the more mysterious it is!

I’d never seen anything that big that you could climb through the middle of so I was leaning towards taking the tunnel route.  But we had two backpacks with us and we were worried about how difficult it could be with them on.  So I was talked into leading the 5.4 layback route on the bottom of the flake.  According to the topo, there was a 15′ section right at the bottom of the flake that couldn’t be protected.  As the leader, I was kind of curious to see how that section was going to work.  With a layback climb, you get purchase with your feet by applying an outward pull using your hands.  But if there isn’t any room for protection, there wasn’t going to be any room for hands either.

Thankfully the climb flattens out enough where you can pretty much friction climb through this section and right in the middle of it I actually found a very nice hand hold along the bottom of the flake that might be able to fit a #1 or .75 cam, not sure.  After this 15′ section the flake separates from the face again and the last 15′ feet up to the anchor is a real pleasure.

When I was getting up to the anchor (two bolts) the party that was above us decided that they had enough and were rappelling back down to the ground.  This is all well and good but they were using my anchor so I couldn’t clip into it until they were finished.  This wasn’t too big of a deal because I was comfortable clipped into a piton just to the left but it would have been nice to be able to share the anchor, at least enough so I could get myself clipped into it.

Looking Down at Hermaphrodite Flake

Looking Down at Hermaphrodite Flake

I brought up Ben and then Linda and Tyndall, all of them making the climb look very easy.  Tyndall was excited to lead the next pitch and the rest of us were happy to let him go for it.  The first 40′ is more layback climbing along the right side of the flake and then 150′ feet of 5.6 and 5.7 face climbing.  The face section is bolted pretty well but could use a visit from the ASCA pretty badly.

I followed Tyndall up the pitch and trailed the two ropes for Ben and Linda.  Ben had complained about how hard it was to trail the ropes on the last pitch and while I believed him, it was difficult to get a sense of it until it was my turn to do the same.  What a workout that was.  The ropes themselves don’t weigh all that much but the friction that the carabiners generate as well as the rope running over the rock is huge.  By the time I got to the top, it was requiring a solid 40-50 pounds to pull the ropes up, thankfully I didn’t find the climbing itself very challenging.

For the last pitch we had another decision to make.  We could continue straight up and make the route a 5.10b, traverse over to the left for 30′ along a 5.8R face section to an easy crack or rappel back down to the ground.  The 5.10b route seemed a bit out of the question and rappelling when you’re one pitch from the top isn’t a ton of fun so the runout 5.8 section was the way to go.

Above The 5.8 Runout Section

The gold areas are slick as glass glacial polish, avoid.

Tyndall took a good look at it and was comfortable leading it so we let him go for two in a row.  There was a healthy amount of glacial polish on the rock but it was fractured in enough places so there was actually a pretty healthy amount of foot holds.  Tyndall had no issues getting over to the crack and throwing in some pro.  At the top of the crack the topo said that there would be two bolts before a two bolt anchor.

Tyndall was getting close to running out of rope and could only find one of the two bolts and no anchor was in sight.  The wind was picking up a bit so we couldn’t hear each other and because he was on the top, we couldn’t see him either.  In these situations we use tugs on the rope to signal each other, but with all of the rope drag, we couldn’t actually feel them.  So after about 10 minutes of no activity, we decided that Ben would put me on belay and although Tyndall probably had me on as well, I’d climb with the mentality of a leader.  After about 15′ of the traverse it was obvious that Tyndall did have me on belay, but it was good to take the extra precaution.

Once we all got to the top we basked in the sun and our accomplishment.  Almost 600′ of climbing in three pitches with a party of four and it took us under four hours, far from being speedy but not too bad either.  It was also pretty cool to be 900′ above the the gorgeous Tenaya Lake.  From this height we could almost see all the way from the Western side of Yosemite to the Eastern.  You can even make out Half Dome in the distance. (Thanks for taking photos Linda :)

Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake with Half Dome in the distance

With another day of spectacular climbing under our belt, we hiked down the backside of the dome back to the lake.  We had one more day left in Tuolumne before heading back and we planned on getting another multi-pitch climb in on Medlicott Dome, Left but ended up getting horribly lost not once, or twice, but three times.  We ended up at the base of Medlicott Dome, Right and did some sport climbs but were kind of bummed that our plans didn’t quite work out.  But I guess that’s the way it goes, it will just have to wait for another trip.

The day after we got home Ben asked me if I was hooked on trad climbing.  I was.  So we decided to plan another trip a few weeks later to Yosemite Valley.  That turned out to be quite an adventure so expect this series of posts to continue.

Tuolumne Climbing: Zee Tree

October 26, 2009

Day 2: Zee Tree (5.7) on Pywiack Dome

After the previous day of fairly intense climbing on West Crack, Ben and I were thinking that something a little bit easier might be nice.  After tossing around some options we decided that Zee Tree looked like fun.  The route is actually quite visible from highway 120 and Ben recalled seeing what he believed to be “zee tree” while passing many times.  We were excited to be getting an earlier start than the day before and hoped to be the first ones on the route.

When we pulled into the trail head parking lot, it was nice to see it fairly empty.  While we were getting our gear together another group pulled up with plans to climb Dike Route (5.9R) which starts in the same location as Zee Tree.  They had done both routes before so we decided to follow them to the start of the route.  However, along the way and quite unconsciously, we stopped following that group and continued walking along the southern edge of the dome to where we thought the route started.

From the road you can see this huge tree growing out of Pywiack Dome, many times larger than any other tree on the rock.  With such a large tree we assumed that it was “the tree”, it simply had to be.  So we climbed up the 3rd class slope and setup an anchor when it turned into fairly steep 4th class climbing.  The previous day I discovered that I’m pretty comfortable with low angle climbing so I decided to lead the first pitch up to a pair of bolts.

I managed to place a few pieces of protection but after 200′ of climbing I ran out of rope and there were no bolts in sight.  After a few minutes of searching around, I made myself secure so Ben could check the topo to see if he could figure out what the deal was.  With only a glace at the beta, it was obvious that we were very far off from where we should be.  This presented us with a little problem.

I was 200′ up a mystery route if it was a route at all and needed to get back to the ground.  This gave us two options, Ben could climb up to where I was with another rope and we could find something to rappel off of or I could down climb the 200′ back to Ben.  Given that the climbing was very easy, I was pretty comfortable down climbing.  When I got back to the ground we packed up and headed back towards the road and the start of the real route.

During the hike back we laughed at how fixated we were on that big tree.  It gave us such tunnel vision that we diverged from the group that actually knew where they were going.  I’d love to know if I was on a known route but we joked about my first ascent.  Our mistake ended up costing us a good amount of time and we found ourselves getting our real start at about the same time as the day before.  So I declared the name of our mystery route “almost noon”.

Zee Tree

The real Zee Tree route

Feeling somewhat confident that we were on the right track, I prepared to lead the first pitch again, hopefully finding the bolts this time.  After about 100′ of climbing without a single piece of protection, I enthusiastically reported to Ben that I had found the bolts and that we were on the right path.  Ben joined me at the anchor and prepared to lead the next pitch.

Zee Tree is a face climb and in Tuolumne face climbs usually translate into massive amounts of runout.  Because there isn’t any crack systems in face climbing, these routes are usually protected with bolts but the first ascent parties tend to be a pretty brave bunch and only lightly bolt the routes.  Amazingly the second pitch featured 9 bolts for 180′ of climbing, this is very heavily bolted by Tuolumne standards.  The section between the first anchor and “the tree” featured climbing through 20′ or so of glacial polish.  Thankfully the polish is broken up in a few places enough to get an edge for your feet.

For the third pitch it was my turn to take the lead again.  This pitch was an easy 100′ section of 5.3 climbing that I pretty much ran up (almost literally).  I think we managed to complete this pitch in less than 15 minutes which felt really great.  Up to this point the entire climb had been bolted and we didn’t need our rack of trad gear but that would change on the next pitch.

For the fourth pitch there were a couple bolts leading up to a layback crack where some traditional pro could be placed.  But instead of taking the entire rack we decided that Ben could simply take a few cams and the set of nuts.  This would have worked out great except for one small problem, we thought there were bolts for an anchor.  When Ben ran out of rope and discovered that there were no bolts in sight he had no option but to build a traditional anchor with the few nuts that he had left over.  Thankfully he had enough and the climbing was so easy that there was very little chance of falling, but it was an excellent reminder that it’s a good idea for the leader to have all of the gear.

The final pitch was this very fun looking 5.7 layback crack.  I was having so much fun on the route that without even hesitating I said that I’d love to lead the pitch.  It didn’t even occur to me that I’d never been on the sharp end for a pitch this difficult or the fact that I didn’t have much experience with layback cracks.  But I just went with it and it went off without a hitch leaving me feeling quite proud of myself.

Standing on Top of Pywiack Dome

Peace out from the top of Pywiack Dome

Compared to the day before where I followed Ben for the entire route, this day I managed to successfully lead 3 of the 5 pitches, what a fantastic feeling that was.  The view from the top of Pywiack Dome was also an incredible one.  Overlooking Tenaya Lake as well as all of Tuolumne Meadows was such a treat.  After spending a solid half hour on top looking around and eating we rappelled back down to the ground.  Back at the parking lot we hung out a bit before taking off.

Ben’s wife Linda as well as our friend Tyndall were heading up that afternoon to spend the next couple days climbing with us and we thought it would be fun to run into them alongside the road.  After about an hour or so of chatting with tourists and hearing their various reactions to our chosen recreation, we headed back to camp and waited for them outside the campground entrance.  With resupplies from Linda, the group of us relaxed at the campground and prepared for the next days adventure, Hermaphrodite Flake.

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